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Here's why we need to talk about Lifetime's 'Cleveland Abduction'

The obvious tragedy in Lifetime’s Cleveland Abduction is that it depicts all the horrible atrocities Michelle Knight endured during her 11 year captivity under Ariel Castro. You can’t watch more than 15 minutes of this movie and not feel stirred by the accounts of her abduction.

But the sheer existence and popularity of the movie reveals an altogether different tragedy.

Aside from the graphic visual account of Knight’s horrific ordeal, Cleveland Abduction perpetuates the value of the victimization of women—Lifetime’s bread and butter, it would seem. The movie, like several other abduction movies debuting on the network this month (Stockholm, Pennsylvania and Kidnapped: The Hannah Anderson Story) reads like misery porn: exploitative of real life events and reductive of the actual tragedy of the real events.

The movie, which first aired on May 2, tells the true story of young, struggling single mom Michelle Knight. Michelle is played by Taryn Manning, who transforms the real Michelle Knight into yet another two-dimensional version of every other poor, “white-trash” character she often plays. Cleveland Abduction could have been Pensatucky’s origin story. There’s not a lot of range in Manning’s performance, although the character is carefully written to seem naive, earnest, and faithful.

The movie picks up right as the 21-year-old Knight is struggling the most. She loses custody of her son to foster care thanks to an alcoholic, absentee mother and her abusive boyfriend, and she can’t find work without a high school diploma.

Desperate to get to her custody hearing on time, she accepts a ride from an acquaintance’s dad, Ariel Castro. Castro is played by Breaking Bad‘s Raymond Cruz, who is great at playing both dangerous and ridiculously dumb. Cruz’s depiction of Castro is more nuanced than any of the other characters, but he carries out the violence in a ham-fisted way that caps how menacing it could really be.

Tarryn Manning as Michelle Knight finds small joys in her life in Cleveland Abduction

Not long after Castro kidnaps Michelle, he also takes Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, whom he holds captive for many more years. Gina is only in middle school when Castro abducts her, and Amanda eventually becomes pregnant with his child.

There are some disturbing scenes in this movie that are gritty and dark—a bit of a departure for Lifetime, which usually keeps it pretty PG-13. In fact, watching Michelle hang, hog-tied with extension cords, from the ceiling for so long that she soils herself will probably stay with me forever.

But it’s scenes like this that contribute to the insidious nature of abduction movies. They are forcing us to wallow in the misery of the suffering, and audiences are loving every minute of it. The same is true for emotionally taxing moments in the movie, which are almost worse than the scenes of blatant physical violence.

In one particular scene, Castro suspects Michelle might be pregnant and beats her stomach with a dumbbell to force a miscarriage. It’s horrible to even describe, much less watch, but the scene doesn’t read like a “you really need to know this.” It feels manipulative; I don’t like having my arm twisted like this. The story is enough—we don’t need an over-editorialized version meant to bash us over the head with how we’re “supposed to feel” as we watch.

While Lifetime is not the first network to capitalize on human pathos, Cleveland Abduction is another addition to its canon of “ripped from the headlines” movies that are designed to use every ounce of the victims’ suffering to elicit ratings and buzz for the movie. Think of the Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox stories.

Not only does this feel exploitative, but it is highly reductive. Cleveland Abduction, and so many of the other movies of its kind, minimizes the pain, torture, and abuse of its (mostly female) victims into two-hour narratives that wrap up nicely once the victims have been “saved.”

Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus are rescued in Cleveland Abduction

Michelle winds up testifying in Castro’s hearing, telling the court, and Castro, “I spent 11 years in hell, and now your hell is just beginning. After 11 years, I’m finally being heard, and it’s liberating.” The movie ends shortly thereafter, with a healthy-looking Michelle interacting with other people, seemingly well adjusted after her ordeal.

I resent the flaccid attempt to assuage the previous 80 minutes of emotional upheaval. Worse, this makes it seem like Michelle’s story ends there, when anyone could tell you it doesn’t.

Even though this movie aired over a week ago, I’m still thinking about it—not because I want Lifetime or other networks to stop making these kinds of movies (I’m a TV movie fan, just like the rest of us)—but because I want them to be better.

I want them to be respectful and honest, and not ask us to wallow in the misfortune of these poor women, then expect us to get over it with a three-minute montage at the end of the movie.

Just be real, Lifetime. That’s all I’m asking.

Cleveland Abduction will re-air on Lifetime on Friday, May 8, at 8/7C and Saturday, May 9, at 6/7C.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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